Historian and First Peoples author Malinda Maynor Lowery (Lumbee) writes for us about her tribe’s federal recognition struggle and how recent moves by the Lumbee Tribal Council highlight the fact that every tribe, recognized or not, is still a political entity.
Who’s Pulling the Strings in Today’s Lumbee Recognition Process?
By Malinda Maynor Lowery
I’m a big fan of the Godfather (there are a lot of metaphors that explain Indian politics in those movies) and so recent events with Lumbee recognition have reminded me that someone else is always pulling the strings.
My book Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South (University of North Carolina Press 2010) explores federal recognition and identity formation between the 1870s and the 1950s, a critical period when the Lumbees’ formal political organization developed in the presence of brutal pressure from white supremacists at both local and federal levels. My community responded to this pressure by dividing into strategic factions, and each party developed its own way of dealing with the capricious and subjective identity definitions that Congress and the BIA articulated. These identity definitions revolved in part around stereotypes of Indians, but they also involved comparisons to African Americans. We had to convince outsiders that we were not black, and therefore worthy of separate recognition.